The Tensile Properties and Fracture Behavior of Two
High Strength Steels: Influence of Coating
Paul Arindam1, T. S. Srivatsan1*, G. L. Doll2,3
1Division of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Akron
2Timken Engineered Surfaces Laboratory, Akron Engineering Research Center, University of Akron
3Department of Civil Engineering, University of Akron
T. S. Srivatsan, Division of Materials Science and Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Akron,
Ohio 44325-3903, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received: March 11, 2016; Accepted: April 05, 2016; Published: April 25, 2016
Citation: Arindam P, Srivatsan TS, Doll GL (2016) The Tensile Properties and Fracture Behavior of Two High Strength Steels:
Influence of Coating. SOJ Mater Sci Eng 4(1): 1-8.
Chromium nitrate is a preferred coating that has been
preferentially chosen and extensively used for purpose of improving
the corrosion resistance of metals when exposed to environments
spanning a range of aggressiveness. In this paper, the results of a
study in which chromium nitrate was used as a surface coating on
two widely chosen and used high strength steels is presented and
discussed. The steels chosen were 17-4 PH stainless steel and the
high strength alloy steel (300M). Results reveal the coating to have
a beneficial influence on both yield strength and tensile strength of
the chosen 17-4 PH stainless steel. For the high strength alloy steel
300M, the coating was observed to have a positive influence on both
yield strength and tensile strength with a noticeable reduction in
ductility. The kinetics of the presence of coating on tensile fracture
behavior is highlighted in light of intrinsic microstructural effects,
deformation characteristics of the microstructural constituents and
nature of loading.
Keywords: Coating; Stainless steel; Alloy steel; Tensile response;
A growing interest in the use of protective coatings on
the surface of a metal has been shown to be an economically
affordable and potentially viable alternative for a number
of purposes to include the following: (a) improving and/or
enhancing the mechanical properties of the chosen metal, (b)
improving resistance to environment induced degradation or
corrosion, and (c) improved resistance to wear . Over the years,
few to several methods have been developed and put forth in an
attempt to accomplish protective coatings on a structural metal.
A few of these include the following: (i) Electrode position, (ii)
Physical vapor deposition (PVD), (iii) Chemical vapor deposition
(CVD), and (iv) Thermal spraying. A few of these methods are
carried out at an elevated temperature, which does tend to exert
an observable influence on mechanical properties of the chosen
Chromium Nitrate coatings are preferentially chosen and
used as a viable, effective and affordable option for protecting the base material or substrate from wear and the deleterious
influence of the environment often resulting in environmentdegradation
or corrosion . In one independent study, it was
found to have or exert noticeable improvement in toughness with
minimum to no improvement in other mechanical properties of
interest to the engineer . In a more recent study by S.Herenu
and co-workers , on the presence and role of chromium nitrate
precipitates on strain-controlled low cycle fatigue behavior
of a duplex stainless steel it was found to exert a detrimental
influence on low cycle fatigue properties. Furthermore, thermal
treatment at an elevated temperature followed by cooling in
ambient air was found to reduce the influence of the presence of
chromium nitrate precipitates on the steels chosen and studied in
this independent research study .
Stainless steel has gained for itself the advantage of being
categorized as an attractive and preferred choice as an implant
material for use in internal fixation. This arises primarily because
of its cost effectiveness, good mechanical strength coupled with
the intrinsic capability of adjusting the implant in order to obtain
a custom fit . In a recent study conducted by Monika Cieslika
and co-workers  on a comparison between Parylene N coating
and Parylene C coating on 316L stainless steel it was found that
both micro-hardness and Young’s Modulus were nearly the
same within limits of experimental error for the two coatings.
Furthermore, they found and documented the Parylene C coating
to be a more suitable than Parylene N coating on stainless steel
implant surfaces . In fact a careful and comprehensive study of
the experimental data collected in this research article did reveal
the critical load / total delamination and coating thickness of the
Parylene C coating to be noticeably higher when compared to the
Parylene N coating. This factor contributed to the initiation of
fine microscopic cracks under the influence of low applied load
when the substrate is coated with Parylene N. Furthermore, the
crystalline nature of Parylene N coating makes it behave more
like a ceramic material than a polymeric material. The elastic
nature of Parylene C coating makes it easier to both undergo and
withstand deformation, which was observed in this study .
The mechanical properties and microstructure of AISI 4340
high strength alloy steel was investigated by Wei-Shyan Leeand
co-workers  under various conditions of tempering. Results
revealed hardness, strength, and strain-hardening exponent
to noticeably decrease with an increase in both tempering
temperature and hold time. Ductility, quantified by both reduction
in cross-section area and elongation to failure, increased with an
increase in tempering temperature and hold time. An exhaustive
analysis of the fracture surfaces of the deformed and failed
specimens revealed features reminiscent of "locally" ductile
failure with the formation and presence of voids of varying size
and dimples. They also showed that at a test temperature of
300°C the material experienced brittle fracture mechanism as a
consequence of embrittlement of the tempered martensite .
The primary objective of this experimental investigation
was to provide both a scientific and engineering insight into
the influence of a coating on tensile response, rationalized
both by way of properties and fracture behavior, of two high
strength steels spanning the sub-families of stainless steel and
alloy steel. The tensile fracture behavior is discussed in light of
mutually interactive influences of nature of loading and intrinsic
The two materials chosen for this experimental study belong
to the ferrous family of alloys. The nominal chemical composition
of the two high strength steels is provided in Table 1. In the
case of both alloy steel [300M] and stainless steel [17-4PH] the
presence of carbon in the composition provides solid solution
strengthening while concurrently enabling in a noticeable
enhancement in hardenability through the formation and
presence of alloy carbides in the microstructure. The presence
of the alloying elements chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni), molybdenum
(Mo) and manganese (Mn) aids in the formation and presence of
carbide particles dispersed through the microstructure thereby
contributing in a small way to increasing the strength of the steel
The two chosen high strength steels were coated using a
cathodic arc deposition technique, which is categorized to be
one of the most widely used physical vapor deposition [PVD]
techniques. The process was conducted by striking high current
using a low voltage arc on the surface of the substrate. This often
necessitates the need for high local temperature, which serves
to successfully vaporize the coating material upon application.
Subsequently, this condenses on to the substrate forming a thin
The tensile tests were performed on the two chosen high
strength steels, i.e., 17-4 PH stainless steel and 300M alloy steel.
Test sample preparation
Cylindrical test specimens were precision machined from the
blanks on a CNC machine and conformed to specifications outlined
in standard ASTM E-8 . The threaded specimen measured 58.4mm in length and 12.70 mm in diameter at the thread region.
The gage length of the finished or machined specimen measured
12.70 mm in length and 3.175 mm in diameter. To minimize the
extrinsic influence of surface irregularities and surface finish, and
considering the importance of surface finish to ensure adherence
of the coating, abundance of care and caution were taken during:
(i) handling of the test specimens both prior to and during the
coating , (ii) handling following coating, and (iii) handling during
testing on a servo-hydraulic test machine. Blanks of the 17-4
PH stainless steel were machined along the longitudinal (L)
direction of the as-provided stock. Blanks of alloy steel 300M
were machined from both the longitudinal (L) and transverse (T)
directions of the as-provided plate stock. A schematic of the test
specimen used is shown in Figure 1.
Table 1: Nominal chemical composition of the two steels chosen, i.e.,
17-4 PH stainless steel, and 300M alloy steel.
17-4 PH stainless steel
300M alloy steel
Weight Percentage (%)
Weight Percentage (%)
15.00 – 17.50
3.00 – 5.00
3.00 – 5.00
Sulphur + Phosphorus
Initial microstructure characterization
Initial microstructural evaluation of the as provided materials
was done using a low magnification optical microscope. Samples
of desired shape and size were cut from the two high strength
steels and mounted in epoxy. The steel samples embedded in
epoxy were then mechanically ground on progressively finer
grades of silicon carbide impregnated emery paper using copious
amounts of water as lubricant. The mechanically ground and
rough polished samples were then fine polished using one-micron alumina suspended in distilled water as the lubricant. The
finish polished samples had a near mirror-like surface finish. The
round and polished samples of the three chosen alloys were then
etched as follows:
(a) The 17-4 PH stainless steel sample was etched using
Fry’s reagent; a solution mixture of 30 ml H₂O, 40 ml HCL, 25 ml
ethanol and 5g CuCl2;
(b) Alloy steel 300M was etched using a solution mixture of
10 ml of nitric acid (HNO2) and 90 ml of ethanol, also known as
(c) The etched samples were observed in a low magnification
optical microscope using bright field illumination technique.
Figure 1: A schematic of the cylindrical test specimen used for the mechanical
tests. All Dimensions are in mm.
Uniaxial tensile tests were performed up until failure on a
fully automated, closed-loop servo-hydraulic mechanical test
machine (INSTRON: Model 8500 Plus) equipped with a 25 KN
load-cell. The test specimens of the three chosen materials were
deformed at a constant strain rate of 0.0001/sec. An axial 12.5
mm gage length clip-on extensometer was attached to the test
specimen using rubber bands to provide a measure of strain
during uniaxial stretching. The stress and strain measurements,
parallel to the load line, were recorded on a PC-based data
acquisition system (DAS).
Fracture surface of the fully deformed and failed samples were
carefully examined in a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
to determine the macroscopic fracture mode and to also help
characterize the fine scale features on the tensile fracture surface
that would help establish the fine microscopic mechanisms
governing tensile fracture. In this study, the macroscopic mode
refers to the overall mode of failure, while the microscopic
mechanisms includes all of the failure processes occurring
at the ‘local’ level, such as, (a) microscopic void formation, (b)
microscopic void growth, (c) their eventual coalescence to form
one or more fine microscopic cracks, and (d) the nature, extent
and severity of macroscopic cracking.
Results and Discussion
The study of initial microstructure is very important to
analyze tensile properties, fracture behavior, fracture toughness
and resultant fracture behavior. The optical micrographs of 17-4
PH stainless steel and 300M alloy steel are shown in Figure 2 and
Figure 3 respectively.
Optical micrographs of 17-4 PH stainless steel are shown
in Figure 2, which is taken at two different magnifications. The
micrographs reveal a dual phase microstructure comprising
of irregular portions or patches of light color regions or ferrite
(pure iron) and a random distribution of dark color regions, of
varying size, or martensite (the carbon-rich micro constituent).
The martensite present had a near needle-like morphology of
varying size and thickness.
Figure 2: Optical micrographs of 17-4 PH precipitation hardenable
stainless steel showing:
a) Low magnification showing a mixture of ferrite and martensite.
b) High magnification observation of (a) showing the morphology and
distribution of the two key micro-constituents ferrite and martensite
Figure 3: Optical micrographs showing key micro-constituents in alloy
steel 300M at two different magnifications.
The micrographs of high strength alloy steel 300M are shown
in Figure 3 and reveal a combination of carbon-rich and carbondepleted
region. A higher carbon and alloy content in this alloy
steel resulted in a greater volume fraction of martensite in the
carbon-rich regions. The martensite, in the form of needles, was
much finer and intermingled with random pockets of the ferriterich
region. The presence of martensite micro-constituent in
the carbon-rich regions is governed by a synergism of both
composition and primary processing used to engineer the alloy
stock. This does exert an influence on mechanical properties of
the as provided plate.
The uniaxial tensile properties of the two chosen high
strength steels are summarized in Table 2. Results reported
are the mean values based on duplicate tests conducted on each
material. In Table 2 we provided the tensile properties of the
untreated samples of the two chosen high strength steels. Also
provided in this table is a compilation of tensile properties of the
samples that were coated with chromium nitrate.
(A) (i) For the 17-4 PH stainless steel the value of elastic
modulus was 227 GPa for the Untreated sample and for the
coated samples. The elastic modulus was 220 GPa, a minimal
difference well within the limits of experimental error.
Table 2: A compilation of the elastic modulus, yield strength, ultimate strength, and elongation measured on untreated and coated samples of 17-4
PH stainless steel and 300M alloy steel [both Longitudinal (L) and Transverse (T) orientations].
17-4 PH Stainless Steel
300M Alloy Steel (Longitudinal)
300M Alloy Steel (Transverse)
Samples Coated with Chromium Nitrate
17-4 PH Stainless Steel
300M Alloy Steel (Longitudinal)
300M Alloy Steel (Transverse)
(ii) Alloy steel 300M was tested in both the longitudinal and
transverse directions. For sample taken from the longitudinal
orientation the elastic modulus was 248 GPa for the coated
sample, and for the untreated sample the elastic modulus was
marginally lower than the coated sample and 233 GPa. Sample
of this alloy taken from the transverse orientation the elastic
modulus was +197 GPa for the untreated sample and as high as
208 GPa for the coated counterpart.
(B) (i) Untreated sample of 17-4 PH stainless steel had yield
strength of 1027 MPa while a yield strength of 1177 MPa was
recorded for the coated sample, which is the highest value of
yield strength achieved among the two chosen metals.
(ii) For high strength alloy steel 300M samples from both the
longitudinal and transverse orientation revealed a marginally
lower value of yield strength for the coated samples when
compared one–one with the untreated counterpart. The yield
strength strength of the coated sample was 435 MPa for the
longitudinal (L) orientation and 436 MPa for the transverse (T)
orientation. Untreated sample of alloy steel 300M was found to
have yield strength of 505 MPa for the test sample taken from
the longitudinal (L) orientation while sample taken from the
transverse (T) orientation had a yield strength of 474 MPa.
(C) (i) The 17-4 PH stainless steel was found to reveal a
marginal increment in UTS when the test sample coated with
chromium nitrate was deformed in uniaxial tension. The UTS for
the untreated sample was 1140 MPa while strength was as high
as 1179 MPa for the coated counterpart.
(ii) For alloy steel 300M coating was found to have a marginal
detrimental influence on tensile strength. For the longitudinal (L)
orientation the value of tensile strength decreased from 914 MPa
(untreated) to 836 MPa (coated). However, sample prepared
from the transverse (T) orientation the UTS was 880 MPa for the
untreated sample and only 843 MPa for the coated counterpart.
(D) (i) Alloy steel 300M tends to follow the same pattern for
both the longitudinal and transverse orientations of the test
samples. For the longitudinal (L) orientation the value decreased
by almost 2% when the coated sample is compared with the
uncoated counterpart. For the transverse orientation sample the
value decreased marginally by 1 %. (E)(ii) The 17-4 PH stainless steel revealed both increased
yield strength and ultimate tensile strength when subject to a
protective coating of chromium nitrate but difficulty was found
to decrease by as much as 3%.
Tensile fracture behavior
An examination of the fracture surfaces over a range of
allowable magnifications of the Scanning electron microscope
(SEM) does provide useful information pertaining to the role
and contribution of intrinsic microstructural effects on strength
and ductility properties of the two chosen high strength steels.
An exhaustive examination of the tensile fracture surfaces did
reveal observable differences in the following: (a) macroscopic
or overall fracture morphology, and (b) microscopic features and
resultant mechanisms on the fracture surface. Representative
fracture features of the two chosen steels are shown in Figure 4
to Figure 7.
Tensile fracture of 17-4 PH stainless steel:
Scanning electron micrographs of the tensile fracture surface of the
untreated sample of 17-4 PH stainless steel shown in Figure 4
reveals a cup and cone morphology Figure 4A, which is reminiscent
of globally ductile failure. High magnification observation of the
fracture surface revealed dimples and an observable population
of voids covering the fracture surface Figure 4B. Locally brittle
and ductile failure mechanisms were easily observed due to the
presence of both macroscopic cracks and a healthy population of
voids and dimples Figure 4C and Figure 4D. Both macroscopic
cracks and a sizeable population of voids, of varying size, were
seen covering the overload fracture surface. SEM’s of the coated
sample of 17-4 PH stainless steel are shown in Figure 5 and
reveal an overall cup and cone morphology of failure Figure
5A. High magnification observation revealed a sizeable number
or population of dimples of varying size Figure 5B. The nature,
morphology and distribution of dimples on the overload fracture
surface are shown in Figure 5c. Also observed on the fracture
surface was a distinct distribution of both macroscopic and
fine microscopic voids along with void coalescence to form fine
microscopic cracks as a consequence of void growth during far
field tensile loading Figure 5D.
Tensile fracture of 300M alloy steel
Scanning electron microscopy observation of the tensile fracture surface of the
coated 300M alloy steel sample taken from the longitudinal
stock is shown in Figure 6. Overall, from a global perspective
failure occurred normal to the far-field stress axis Figure 6A.
High magnification observation of the transgranular regions
revealed microscopically rough fracture surface Figure 6B.
Both macroscopic and fine microscopic cracks were observed
in the region immediacy prior to overload Figure 6C. The nonlinear
nature of microscopic cracks intermingled with pockets of
cleavage-like faceted features are reminiscent of" locally" brittle
fracture mechanism occurring in the region of overload Figure
Figure 4: Scanning electron micrograph of the fracture surface features of 17-4 PH stainless steel that was deformed in uniaxial tension, showing:
(a) Overall morphology of failure
(b) High magnification observation of (a) showing dimples and voids covering the fracture surface
(c) Macroscopic cracks intermingled with a healthy population of voids and dimples reminiscent of locally brittle and ductile failure mechanisms
(d) Cracks, voids of varying size and dimples covering the overload fracture surface.
Figure 5: Scanning electron micrographs of the 17-4 Precipitation hardened stainless steel that was coated with chromium nitrate,
(a) Overall morphology of failure
(b) High magnification observation of (a) showing dimples of varying size and a noticeable number of dimples.
(c) The nature, morphology and distribution of dimples on the overload fracture surface.
(d) Distribution of microscopic and fine macroscopic voids and void coalescence
Figure 6: Scanning electron micrographs of alloy steel 300M taken from the longitudinal orientation tha t was coated with chromium nitrate, and
deformed in tension, showing:
(a) Overall morphology of failure normal to the far- field stress axis.
(b) High magnification observation of the transgranular region reveals microscopically rough fracture surface.
(c) Macroscopic cracks intermingled with fine microscopic cracks in the region immediately prior to overload
(d) High magnification observation of (c) showing non-linear nature of macroscopic crack intermingled with pockets of cleavage-like faceted
features reminiscent of locally acting brittle failure mechanisms
Scanning electron micrographs of the sample coated with
chromium nitrate and taken from the transverse stock is shown
in Figure 7. Overall morphology of failure was essentially flat and
normal to the far field stress axis Figure 7A. High magnification
observation at the permissible allowable magnifications of the
SEM revealed a microscopically rough fracture surface Figure
7B. The nature and morphology of the key microscopic features
covering the fracture surface immediately prior to overload is
shown in Figure 7C. In the region of overload well distributed pockets of faceted-like features reminiscent of "locally" operating
brittle failure mechanism was clearly evident Figure 7D.
Load-Stress-Microstructure Interactions Governing
For both the coated and uncoated test specimens of the two
chosen high strength steels during far field loading in uniaxial
tension the presence of dislocations in the microstructure of the
deforming steel coupled with its gradual build up both at the grain
boundaries and at the coarse second-phase particles present and
distributed randomly through the microstructure does assist in
the early initiation of fine microscopic voids at both the coarse
and intermediate-size second-phase particles distributed through
the microstructure. This is particularly favored to occur when
the local strain build-up at a particle-matrix interface reaches a
critical value. Initiation of a void at a coarse or intermediate size
second-phase particle occurs immediately following yielding and
at low values of plastic strain. During far-field tensile deformation
a few of the particles are easily favored to crack on account of
their intrinsic brittleness [11,12]. Since crack extension under
conditions of quasi-static or tensile loading often occurs at very high ‘local’ stress intensities, comparable with the fracture
toughness of the material, the presence of a population of both
macroscopic and fine microscopic voids actually contributes to
degrading the actual strain to failure [12-14].
Figure 7: Scanning electron micrographs of the tensile fracture surface of chromium nitrate coated alloy steel 300M taken from the transverse orientation,
(a) Overall magnification of failure, normal to the far field stress axis.
(b) High magnification observation of (a) showing microscopically rough fracture
(c) High magnification observation of (b) showing the key features on the fracture
surface immediately prior to overload.
(d) Well distributed pockets of faceted-like features through the fracture surface.
Irrespective of the presence of a coating the formation
and presence of a sizeable population of voids of varying size
essentially transforms the deforming high strength steel into a
composite material at the very fine microscopic level. At this level,
in essence we have two populations of particles, (a) the grains
in the metal matrix, and (b) voids (void now being considered
as a particle having zero stiffness). Since the voids can be safely
considered to be intrinsically softer than the hardened grains
in the matrix, the local strain is elevated both at and around the
region of a microscopic void enabling in 'local' conditions that
facilitate an increase in their volume fraction. During continued
loading in the tensile stress direction the fine microscopic voids
gradually elongate. The elongated voids grow and eventually
coalesce resulting in the formation of fine microscopic cracks for
both the coated and uncoated counterparts of the two chosen
A study aimed at understanding the influence of coating on
the tensile response and fracture behavior of two high strength
steels belonging to the subfamilies of stainless steel and alloy
steel, provides the following key findings:
(i) The two ferrous alloys, i.e., stainless steel and high strength
alloy steel, revealed a dual phase microstructure comprising of
carbon-rich and carbon-depleted (ferrite) regions. A higher
carbon and alloy content in these two chosen steels resulted in
a greater volume fraction of the micro-constituent martensite in
the carbon rich regions.
(ii) The presence and overall morphology of martensite in
these two steels was in the form of needles of varying size and
shape or thickness.
(i) Presence of coating was found to be beneficial by way of
observable improvement in both yield strength and ultimate tensile strength of 17-4PH stainless steel. Coating was observed
to have minimal influence on elastic modulus and no influence on
ductility, i.e., elongation.
(ii) Presence of coating was observed to be detrimental to
yield strength and ultimate tensile strength of alloy steel 300M
in both the longitudinal (L) and transverse (T) orientations.
However, presence of coating did enable in a minimum increase
in stiffness or elastic modulus of this alloy steel, with no
observable influence on ductility. Overall, coating was found to
have marginal influence on short-term mechanical properties
of the two chosen high strength steels quantified by means of a
(i) For the two steels chosen, i.e., stainless steel and alloy
steel, both the coated and untreated samples when deformed
in uniaxial tension revealed a globally ductile failure and at the
fine microscopic level features reminiscent of ‘locally’ ductile and
brittle failure mechanisms.
(ii) For each chosen steel, the features were essentially the
same, at the allowable magnification of the scanning electron
microscope, for both the coated and untreated samples.
This research was made possible through research funds
provided by the National Center for Education and Research
in Corrosion and Materials Processing [NCERCAMP (Akron,
Ohio)] Program Monitor: Ms. Susan Louscher as a sub grant
to a Department of Defense research funding made available
to NCECAMP. This material is based on research sponsored by
the U.S Air Force Academy under agreement number FAJ000-
13-20023. The U.S government is authorized to reproduce and
distribute reprints for government purposes notwithstanding
any copyright solution thereon.
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